The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

March 23, 2009

Sooners credit Capel for turnaround

NORMAN (AP) — Oklahoma made the NCAA tournament in 2006, but its basketball program quickly turned into a mess.

The Sooners made a swift exit from the tournament, losing in the first round to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Not long after, coach Kelvin Sampson bolted for Indiana, amid an NCAA investigation into nearly 600 improper recruiting telephone calls made by Sampson and his staff that resulted in probation and other sanctions for Oklahoma.

The bad news continued: After Sampson left, three of the prominent recruits who had signed with Oklahoma backed out of their letters of intent, including Damion James, who went to Texas, and Scottie Reynolds, who went to Villanova. That left Sampson’s replacement, Jeff Capel, with a bare cupboard of a roster.

But it didn’t take long for Capel to turn around the program. Three years after taking over, he’s guided the second-seeded Sooners into the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament, in which OU (29-5) will play third-seeded Syracuse (28-9) at 6:27 p.m. Friday in a South Region game in Memphis, Tenn.

It’s the Sooners’ longest run in the NCAA tournament since 2003, when they lost in the round of eight, ironically to the Orange.

Capel wasn’t in the mood to look back Monday at how far the Sooners have come: “Too busy; I’m still in the midst of it,” he said. “When it’s over, I guess we’ll do that.”

An athletic department spokesman said OU athletic director Joe Castiglione was unavailable and Castiglione did not immediately respond to an e-mail query sent Monday afternoon by The Associated Press. But OU players certainly are aware of the program’s recent history and appreciative of its latest run of success, giving much credit to their coach.

“I’m proud to be a part of the team that kind of hopefully changed the program around and kind of got it rolling again,” sophomore center Blake Griffin said. “It’s something we’ll all be proud of as a team.”

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